The Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri: women building better communities.
This is the second in a series of articles about the planning of the 100th Anniversary Luncheon. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.
By: Rachel Sexton, 100th Anniversary Co-Chair, 2013-14
In Sickness and In Health
That’s one of the great things about the League – sure, members like Betsy are one in a million, but members like me who need a little extra help every once in a while can readily get it. In fact, sometimes, when “life happens”, the distraction of being able to plunk yourself into a rewarding charity project with the familiarity of League friends is exactly what you need. I think our rock star 100th Anniversary Events Committee members would attest to that too. Over the course of our first 15 months together, we had 3 babies, 1 wedding, 1 traumatic injury requiring multiple surgeries and 1 devastating house fire. We celebrated the good times, cried through the tough ones and kept our focus on the big day.
One of the first things I learned in Journalism school also applied to our main objectives for the event: who, what, where, when, why and how. In our case, it was Who’s coming? What are they doing when they get there? Where are we hosting it? Why are they going to pay money to be a part of this? and How much do we have to spend?
Channeling our Inner George Banks
Over the next few months, the incredibly talented women of the 100th Anniversary Events Committee researched the information we needed to answer these questions:
Who? Our 100th Anniversary was a once in a lifetime opportunity to show our community the indelible impact League has made on Kansas City (“$14 million dollars and 2.2 million volunteer hours in our first century” replaced “buy one, get one free” as my new favorite phrase). Our historically humble organization was taking the rare stance of “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” – and we wanted to create an event that would appeal to the generations of members who know that to be a Helen Reddy lyric as well as those who wonder if I’ve just misquoted Katy Perry. With an internal guest list of 1400 members and an external guest list of roughly 600 non-members, we could easily relate to the overwhelmed Mr. Banks in Father of the Bride, but we were confident this hard working Committee could put Franc to shame, so we optimistically planned for a return of 50% and set our sights on a venue that would accommodate 1000 guests.
What? Our predecessors had specified that we have a well known speaker at the event and we agreed that “name recognition” was paramount to drawing an external audience, but finding the perfect person made finding Mr. Right look easy. We needed someone who embodied the values of the League, was well known, had not spoken in Kansas City recently, was within our budget and was available. One of the most common questions we heard was, “We’re an AMAZING organization. We make a HUGE difference. AND we’re not-for-profit. Won’t (fill in the blank with your favorite personality: Oprah, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart) donate their appearance?” Alas, every organization in the free world evidently has the same idea, so most celebrities won’t consider a request of this nature unless it happens to be their personal philanthropy. Level setting your expectations about matters like that early on will save you much time and disappointment. Fortunately, after analyzing the pros and cons of every speaker who met our criteria, we were thrilled when our first choice, Hoda Kotb, accepted our offer.
Where? This was by far the easiest question to answer. There are only a few places in town that can accommodate crowds of 1000+ people and if your name isn’t Kenny Chesney or Sesame Street on Ice, the list gets even shorter. After a few site checks, it was clear that the fabulous host of Holiday Mart – the Kansas City Convention Center – would be the perfect venue.
Why? The members of the 100th Anniversary Steering Committee made this part a piece of cake and Hoda was simply the icing. The primary focus of the luncheon program was to recognize the contributions of the League through those who had helped to make them and those who had benefited from them. Under the guidance of Sustaining members including Katie Gerson, Jeanne Sosland and Sandy Johnson, the 90 minute program became a beautiful manifestation of the “$14 million and 2.2 million volunteer hours donated to our community in our first 100 years”.
How? How much did we have to spend? This was the million dollar question – actually, way, waaaay less than a million, but it may as well have been the national deficit to us. We were able to host an event of “once-in-a-lifetime” proportions because it was being offset by ticket costs and sponsorships, but 1000 seats is a lot to fill! Tickets could be purchased at a variety of levels – from rubbing elbows with Hoda at the VIP reception as a table host to buying a single ticket for lunch. Every night, for weeks, we would get the daily numbers from Headquarter’s incomparable Angie Prince, break out the spreadsheet to figure out all the various combinations that would get us to our goal, and begin pounding the pavement the next day to find more people who wanted to play a special part in our 100th year anniversary by generously supporting the luncheon.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of Rachel’s article.